By Ginny Yurich 

Outside provides multi-faceted physical, social, mental, emotional, relational, and developmental benefits. In our busy world with all sorts of development-enhancing activities available for kids, it’s often easy to forget that one of the cheapest and easiest ways to help our children grow is simply to let them be outside.

At 1000 Hours Outside, we are intentional about scheduling outside time into our week just as we would schedule in other activities. In a typical summer week, we try and schedule at least three extended days of outside play and then aim to get the family outside for some shorter chunks on the remaining days when the weather cooperates. An extended day of play in our book is around four to six hours long. Most kids’ activities these days are much shorter, so four hours often seems excessive, yet there are immediate and noticeable changes to child behavior as well as attention span after just one long chunk of time outside.   

One of the questions we get asked most often is how are we able to spend these extended time outside with our kids. Many have commented that they just can’t make it that long. Spending large chunks of time outside is not the only way to get in nature time, but those long summer days provide considerable movement and memories, and when the weather is warm there is no better time to plan these long days.  

So, we wanted to offer a few tips to help you make the most of your outside experience.   

1) Start with a hike. 

When you are in the middle of a hike, you are totally and completely stuck in nature. There’s no getting around it. You simply have to finish — which is why this is our top tip. Kids love to forge forward. Even toddlers understand the concept of staying on the path. Build some summer memories around a hike or two in your area. There are many options. We like to search for short hikes using our city recreation websites and by using Google Maps. Consider taking a hike before playground time or before hitting the beach. You will find that the minutes fly by. If you choose a hike along a river or has some changes of scenery, it will better capture your family’s attention and will help lengthen your time outside. 

2) Be child-directed. 

Kids are notoriously slow. They are soaking life in. Follow their lead. If they want to try and capture butterflies, don’t rush it. If they want to spend an hour throwing stones in a river or building a wall out of sticks, let it be. If they want to lay on the ground and watch the ants work, don’t push them to move on. There is so much stimulation for children these days, we forget that they will become entranced with nature when given time and space.  

3) Pack extra food, water, and clothing. 

Nothing will end your outing quicker than running out of these three things. I always pack what I think is enough and then leave just one extra water bottle and one extra box of some sort of snack in the car. I keep a full outfit for each child (including socks and underwear) in the car at all times, and an extra pair of cheap flip flops.   

4) Consider the season. 

I recently read on Rain or Shine Mamma that one major deterrent to time outside is discomfort — and this is a legitimate concern. So, plan accordingly. Save hiking for cooler days or in the mornings or evenings. If it’s going to be a hot and humid outside, head to a place that has a water option. Avoid marshy areas when the bugs are at their worst. Wear rain boots when it’s raining. The shade of a tree can drop the temperature you feel a good ten degrees, which is substantial in the warm summer months. We are constantly adjusting our activities to fit the weather, because complaining children gets old really quickly. 

5) Take your inside activities outside. 

Life is busy. Whenever possible, take your indoor activities outdoors. Can you sit outside to eat your summertime dinner? Could you put your child’s summertime review work on a clipboard and send him outside? How about a game of Candy Land at a nearby park or a hand of Euchre in the backyard? Even scheduling in some family exercise time can be helpful. We recently found a school track about a half mile from our house. We’ve resolved to head there on the nights when the weather is nice so we can all get in some extra steps. The older kids ride their no-pedal bikes and my husband and I walk and push the baby in the stroller. 

We hope you can use these tips in a way that will immerse your families in nature while building lasting memories through the short summer months.    

Ginny Yurich is a local Michigan mother of five. Through her blog 1000 Hours Outside, she is challenging parents around the world to consider matching outside time with the amount of times kids spend in front of screens. In America, that is currently around 1200 hours a year.    

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